Originally Published: March 19, 2018 6 a.m.
We should have seen this coming.
Donald Trump, who thrives on the love of the crowd, who listens to the last person to successfully worm their way into his ear and who cannot endure even the most minor of slights, is systematically building an administration of yes-men.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who famously referred to his boss as a “moron,” and who broke with him on Russia and Iran, got the sack via Tweet. He was replaced by CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who shares Trump’s hawkishness on Iran, but who also reportedly harbors a corrosive Islamophobia.
Trump, who never enjoyed a close relationship with his chief diplomat, reportedly wanted to change horses ahead of his meeting with North Korea. As awful as Tillerson was at his job, whether that’s actually a good idea remains to be seen.
Meanwhile, Trump’s longtime body man, John McEntee (a personal aide), got the hook on Tuesday because he’s reportedly under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security for financial crimes.
Tillerson and McEntee followed economic advisor Gary Cohn out the door, and with it, the voice of establishment Wall Street. He broke with Trump over potentially destructive, and most definitely extortive, tariffs on steel and aluminum.
Cohn lost a fight with White House trade advisor Peter Navarro, who shares Trump’s protectionist bent. As the Washington Post reports, Navarro, who was once barred from sending private emails and was reduced to “skulking” in the West Wing, is now ascendant.
White House Communications Director Hope Hicks, who admitted before a congressional oversight committee to telling “white lies” on Trump’s behalf, also resigned. There, Trump lost one of his closest advisors and confidantes. Hicks had been with Trump since before the beginning of his political career.
And it’s probably only a matter of time before Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has been repeatedly voted on and off the island by our reality TV president, finally has enough or is similarly purged.
As The Week reports, Tillerson’s exit through the White House’s madly spinning revolving door adds up to at the 37th staff departure in the 14 months of Trump’s administration. That’s a higher rate than the previous five administrations, according to an analysis by The Brookings Institution.
Trump has “experienced such high turnover,” because he “has valued loyalty over qualifications and suffered from a White House that has functioned in a chaotic manner,” Brookings scholar Kathryn Dunn Tenpas concluded.
As result, it’s been difficult for Trump “to retain staff and [it has] contributed to the governance difficulties he has encountered,” she wrote. “If history is any guide, staff recruitment and retention during his second year could prove challenging as well.”
So who’s left?
Trump’s narrowing inner circle is now comprised of Kelly, who was supposed to serve as a check on the president’s worst excesses, but has dramatically underperformed in that role; as well as daughter Ivanka Trump, who is a senior adviser when it suits her, and an aggrieved daughter when it does not; and son-in-law Jared Kushner, a secretary of all, but knower of not much, as it turns out.
Writing for The Guardian, David Smith concludes that “Trump is creating… less a team of rivals than a chorus of praise singers.”
Back in August - which just seems light years away now - The National Review’s Philip H. Devoe wrote that it was too soon to tell whether Trump’s turnover was abnormal. But he said the White House “should heed warning signs about in-house turmoil.”
Yes, a president is entitled to name his own team and they should exhibit some core ideological and political sympathies. But they should also be able to disagree with the chief executive without risking dismissal.
After all, every school kid knows the story of the team of political contrarians that President Abraham Lincoln assembled in 1861.
The 16th president’s decision to bring former opponents into his White House is now praised as a model of executive leadership, underscoring the importance of the leader of the free world being presented with views that do not comport with his own.
Barely more than a year into his presidency, Trump, who shares an affinity for strongmen, is stumbling his way toward a regime of yes-men.
And while that might shore up his tender ego, it’s bad news for the rest of us.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the opinion editor and political columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at email@example.com.